“Flexible Dieting”, “If It Fits Your Macros”, “IIFYM”, “Macro-Tracking” – call it what you want and say what you want about it, but it’s a diet.
Before we go any further, allow me to explain what Flexible Dieting/IIFYM is. Within food we have 3 macronutrients – carbs, protein and fat. All foods contain these macronutrients or ‘macros’ in varying amounts. For example; things like bread, oats, fruit and vegetables will tend to have more carbs; meat, fish and eggs tend to have more protein; and things like avocado, oils and butter will be have more fat.
The idea of tracking macros is that you input food into an app – such as the incredibly popular MyFitnessPal – or simply write it down and take note of how much of each macronutrient you eat throughout the day – being careful not to exceed your pre-calculated limit for the day.
Some of you who have been following me for a while will know that a couple of years ago I tracked macros religiously – I was the flexible dieting queen. I swore by it. So I feel like I can talk from experience when I say how damaging it can be – rather that just being opinionated about something I haven’t even tried. I also know how responsible I have been in the past for advocating tracking macros but you know what – I was wrong.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for tracking macros. I currently work with athletes and know that in some sports, especially those that are weight categorised (such as rowing or powerlifting) or require an extremely low body fat percentage (such as bodybuilding) tracking macros can be essential for improving performance. I also think it’s great to have an idea of what different foods comprise of – but you do not need to track macros in order to do that.
However, tracking macros should not be for the average Joe. And here’s why:
Firstly and most importantly: 9/10 times it leads to an unhealthy relationship with food. Gone over your macros for the day? Ah well, might as well blow it and binge on everything you can find in the house. Hungry in the evening? Sorry, you can’t eat anything else because it won’t fit your macros. It can lead to complete obsession with food; constant thoughts about food, when and what you will eat next, planning ahead to see what you can “fit” into your daily intake.
Sure, people make results when tracking macros – any diet that restricts your intake will lead to you losing weight and, in some cases, becoming extremely lean. However, you can see what tracking macros does to people’s bodies but you can’t see what it’s doing to their mind.
Tracking macros can often be a precursor for disordered eating and even eating disorders. And in some cases, it’s a way for people previously suffering from eating disorders to mask that they are still suffering – weighing yourself, weighing food, preoccupation with bodyweight and size, tracking every morsel of food – see any scary similarities?
Tracking macros can also put you completely out of tune with your own body. You forget how it feels to be hungry or full and instead eat because it’s what you’ve planned for your daily intake. You end up losing some satisfaction from food because you eat things that “fit your macros” rather than something that is filling and satisfying both physically and mentally.
Some could argue that tracking macros is also mostly completely pointless as there is so much room for error. From errors in tracking the actual food to errors in working out your macros in the first place. There are calculations we can use to estimate how many calories we need a day, which in itself is pretty inaccurate. To be more accurate you could measure your Resting Energy Expenditure via direct or indirect calorimetry. But even still, this is never going to be 100% accurate. The truth is, our bodies need differing amounts of fuel on a daily, weekly, monthly basis because things are always changing internally and externally – the human body is far more complex than we can imagine. We don’t know exactly how much food is being digested, absorbed and utilised in each of our bodies because we are all individual, and this can change every day depending on a number of factors.
For a large proportion of people, tracking macros takes the focus away from health, especially when taking a “flexible dieting” approach. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that you can’t enjoy your favourite foods – I do on the daily, but I don’t feel the need to track it. Tracking your favourite foods is just allowing yourself to eat things you like without guilt – but guess what, you can do that without tracking what you eat! People often end up eliminating things from their diet that are perfectly healthy because they don’t “fit” (e.g. not having fruit because of the sugar content) but will happily eat something less nutrient-dense because it’s “macro-friendly”.
It’s not something you can keep up forever – imagine having a partner and kids and still tracking what you eat. It certainly doesn’t promote having a good relationship with food to your kids (or anyone else around you) and is so time-consuming – honestly, who can be arsed for that?! We need to start thinking of our health and fitness in terms of longevity and enjoyment – its not about being the most shredded or even being the strongest or fastest.
One of the problems is that we are so dissatisfied with how we look these days that we go to extreme measures to get the body we want. Well guess what – I tracked macros, became extremely lean (to a near dangerous point) and still wasn’t happy with my body (not to mention how unhealthy I was). Now that I’m much less lean and have started to accept my body for how it is and what it can do, I enjoy eating and exercising for how it makes me feel, I am so much happier and healthier.
Tracking macros is still dieting, even though some swear it’s a lifestyle. What kind of lifestyle doesn’t allow you to eat in the evenings when you are hungry because you’ve “used all your carbs up for the day”? Or stops you going out for food with friends out of fear that you “don’t know what the macros are”? Or means that you turn down your Grandmother’s homemade cake because it “doesn’t fit your macros”? Certainly not a lifestyle I want.